Congo River

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Image of Kinshasa and Brazzaville, taken by NASA; the Congo River is visible in the center of the photograph
Image of Kinshasa and Brazzaville, taken by NASA; the Congo River is visible in the center of the photograph
Mouth Atlantic Ocean
Basin Countries Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo
Length 4,380 km (2,722 mi)
Source Elevation
Avg. Discharge 41,800 m³/s (1,476,376 ft³/s)
Watershed Area 3,680,000 km² (1,420,848 mi²)

The Congo is the largest river in Western Central Africa. Its overall length of 4,380 km (2,720 mi) makes it the second longest in Africa (after the Nile). If the Chambeshi River is taken as the source, the overall length increases to 4,670 km (2900 mi). The river and its tributaries flow through the second largest rain forest area in the world, only the Amazon Rainforest being (much) larger. The river also has the second-largest flow in the world, behind the Amazon, and the second-largest watershed of any river, again trailing the Amazon and slightly ahead of the Mississippi. The Congo also gives its name to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo, both countries lying along its banks, and to the ancient Kingdom of Kongo. Between 1971 and 1997 the government of then-Zaire called it the Zaire River.

The sources of the Congo are in the highlands and mountains of the East Africa Rift, as well as Lake Tanganyika and Lake Mweru, which feed the Lualaba River, which then becomes the Congo below Boyoma Falls.

The Congo flows generally west from Kisangani just below the falls, then gradually bends southwest, passing by Mbandaka, joining with the Ubangi River, and running into the Pool Malebo (Stanley Pool). Kinshasa (formerly Léopoldville) and Brazzaville are on opposite sides of the river at the Pool, then the river narrows and falls through a number of cataracts in deep canyons (collectively known as the Livingstone Falls), running by Matadi and Boma, and into the sea at the small town of Muanda.

The mouth of the Congo was visited in 1482 by the Portuguese Diogo Cão, and in 1816 a British expedition under James Kingston Tuckey went up as far as Isangila. Henry Morton Stanley was the first European to navigate along the river's length and report that the Lualaba was not a source of the Nile as had been suggested.

Nearly the entire Congo is readily navigable, and with railways now bypassing the three major falls, much of the trade of central Africa passes along it, including copper, palm oil (as kernels), sugar, coffee, and cotton. The river is also potentially valuable for hydroelectric power, and the Inga facility below Pool Malebo is the first to exploit the river. In February 2005 South Africa's state-owned power company, Eskom, announced a proposal to drastically increase the capacity of the Inga facility through improvements and the construction of a new hydroelectric dam. The project would bring the maximum output of the facility to 40 GW, double that of China's Three Gorges Dam. [1]


Sorted in order from the mouth heading upstream.


  • H. Winternitz, East Along the Equator: A Journey up the Congo and into Zaire (1987)

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